COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Todd Monken, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Marcus Arroyo | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Duggan
After going winless for the first time since 1925, Southern Miss fired Ellis Johnson after one season and replaced him with Todd Monken. Formerly the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Monken will bring his spread offense to the program, and 6'4" strong-armed redshirt freshman Kyle Sloter is expected to get the nod at quarterback, a position Monken will coach. Sophomore Ricky Lloyd started two games and played in five before suffering a torn ACL, which limited him in spring workouts. California transfer Allan Bridgford will push Sloter and Lloyd this fall.
A depleted, inexperienced offense will be deep at running back. Jalen Richard, a 5'8" sophomore, is the returning rushing leader (426 yards), and he’ll get pushed by Tyre Bracken. Senior Kendrick Hardy also returns. Monken says the offense will look to the running backs to take the lead role.
The Golden Eagles will possess impressive size at receiver, where 6'5" junior Chris Briggs and 6'3" senior Dominique Sullivan return. A year ago, Briggs, whose uncle Jake Reed played for the Minnesota Vikings, averaged 13.1 yards per reception, while Sullivan started 10 games and led the team with three touchdown catches. Justin Sims and Francisco Llanos each had 20 catches, tied for second-most on the team.
The USM offensive line, perennially a solid unit, must replace four starters. Ed Preston, who started at right guard in 2012, is back.
The best news for the defense is the return of former assistant David Duggan as defensive coordinator. Duggan is familiar with the players, many of whom he recruited as an assistant under former head coach Larry Fedora. Duggan was co-defensive coordinator in 2011 when the Golden Eagles set an NCAA record for interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Duggan will welcome seven starters back, but the gaping hole in the defensive front will be the one left by the departure of Jamie Collins, a defensive end who had 21 sacks and 45 tackles for a loss during his career. His likely replacement is veteran Octavius Thomas, a 6'3" senior who sat out last season because of academic issues. Thomas is more of a prototypical defensive end at 6'3" and 230 pounds. Rakeem Nunez-Roches possesses quick feet that make him a feared pass-rusher, while Khyri Thornton is the veteran of the group with 23.5 tackles for a loss in 39 career games.
The linebacker position, which Duggan will coach, returns seniors Alan Howze and Dylan Reda, who combined for more than 120 tackles. The emerging star could be C.J. Perry, who signed with USM in February despite a strong push from TCU.
Seniors Jacorius Cotton and Deron Wilson will anchor the secondary. Wilson has eight career interceptions, three of which he has returned for scores.
Corey Acosta returns to handle the placekicking duties, but four-year punter Pete Boehme must be replaced. Acosta made 11-of-17 field goals last season, including a 51-yarder. Matthew Moseley, a transfer from Tennessee State, is listed at 5'10" and 159 pounds, but he possesses a strong leg and could move into the punting role. Among the biggest losses is return specialist Tracy Lampley.
Not only does Monken inherit a team that was winless in 2012, but he also faces an early season challenge with consecutive road games against Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State. Expect Monken to quickly restore some credibility on offense, where the Golden Eagles managed only 19.7 points and 322.8 yards per game a year ago. And expect the return of Duggan as defensive coordinator to address deficiencies there. The Eagles allowed a very un-Southern Miss-like 37.8 points and 426.5 yards per game in 2012.